Magazine article American Cinematographer

Asc Ciose-Up

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Asc Ciose-Up

Article excerpt

Alexander Gruszynski, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?

I grew up in Communist Poland, and most of the movies playing in theaters were Soviet social-realist dramas that nobody wanted to see because we lived it in our everyday lives. At the time, the only American movies distributed in Poland were Westerns, and when I was 7, the local cinema showed Winchester 75(1950), starring Jimmy Stewart. It played for six months, and it made such a strong impression on me that I sneaked in to see it once a week. I must have seen it at least 20 times.

Which cinematographers do you most admire?

Without question, Conrad Hall, ASC. Also, ASC members Gregg Toland and James Wong Howe for their artistry in black-and-white cinematography.

What sparked your interest in photography?

I got it backwards. In my teens, I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker, and I found out that in order to apply to a film school, one had to submit a photographic portfolio, so I picked up my father's still camera - a Russian camera, a Zenith. Once I started looking at the world inside the rectangle, I was hooked. My first inspiration was a photo album by Irving Penn.

Where did you train and/or study?

At the Danish Film School in Copenhagen.

Who were your teachers or mentors?

The man who taught me the most about light and lighting was a Danish gaffer named Ove Hansen. He was a guileless and unassuming man; you'd never hear him mention Caravaggio or Vermeer, but he had an infectious passion for light. Gunnar Fisher, who shot lngmar Bergman's early films, was also an influence.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

The iconic black-and-white movies - Touch of Evil (1958) and Andrei Rublev(1966) among them - were particularly important to me in developing my craft. I felt black-and-white was truly a cinematographers medium; knowing how to interpret, manipulate and translate colors into shades of gray was essential to creating the look of the film, whereas in color cinematography, the look is to a greater extent a collaboration with the production designer. Also, studying Eisensteins drawings and storyboards was very important to my understanding of the art of visual storytelling.

How did you get your first break in the business?

While at film school, I teamed up with a fellow student, a director named Jon Carlsen. After we graduated, we collaborated on several short films, which led to an opportunity to shoot my first feature.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?

When my collaboration with the director becomes intuitive, and he doesn't need to explain his intentions in detail anymore. …

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